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Too Much or Too Little? Finding a Healthy Stomach Acid Balance

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Healthy HCL Levels

The Importance of Stomach Acid

When you think of stomach acid or stomach acid problems you might think of conditions such as acid reflux or stomach ulcers. Both of these conditions are associated with excess stomach acid but did you know that too little stomach acid might also be the cause?

Too Much or Too Little?

Known as Hypochlorhydria, low stomach acid can be linked to conditions like stomach cancer, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Many people often associate symptoms such as heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), bloating and cramping with excess stomach acid. Too LITTLE stomach acid can be just as big of a problem. Stomach acid plays a key role in nutrient absorption and breakdown. Also known as gastric acid, it contains a blend of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride.

Gastric acid and hydrochloric acid are responsible for many important functions within the digestive system.

  • Gastric acid helps activate important digestive enzymes as well as hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Many nutrients rely on stomach acid for proper absorption.
    • Calcium
    • Vitamin B9
    • Vitamin B12
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin E
    • Zinc
    • Iron
    • Beta carotene
    • Magnesium
  • Stomach acid helps kill bacteria that could enter the GI tract. If they enter the lower GI tract these pathogens could cause infections and increase your risk of stomach cancer and other diseases.

Hypochlorhydria is more common than you may think. It’s a serious condition that can increase your risk of developing stomach cancer and can also lead to problems with digestion and nutrient absorption. Symptoms of low stomach acid can include any of the following.

  • Belching or bloating
  • Indigestion and constipation
  • Acid reflux after eating
  • Gas after eating
  • Abdominal tightness
  • Heartburn
  • Undigested food in stools

Causes

So what causes hypochlorhydria? I mentioned that many people often think their stomach issues are caused by too much stomach acid. They’ll usually take some sort of acid-blocking medication, thinking it will help solve their symptoms. In reality, these medications might make symptoms even worse! Nutrient deficiencies and stress can also cause inadequate levels of HCL.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing low stomach acid can be difficult. The “gold standard” test for low stomach acid is the Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test. It’s an extremely invasive test and can be pretty pricey ($350+) but it is the most accurate test available for determining stomach acid pH.

The Baking Soda Stomach Acid Test is also an option. This is a safe, low cost test that is easy to do at home. The idea is that the baking soda and HCL in your stomach will create a chemical reaction. This typically causes burping. The idea is that if your stomach is producing enough stomach acid you’ll experience burping within a few minutes. Your body will experience the chemical reaction which shows that you have adequate HCL levels. If your body takes longer to react to the baking soda you might have inadequate HCL levels. This is not the most accurate test though so it’s recommended that those who try the baking soda test also try the Betaine HCL Challenge Test for Low Stomach Acid.

The Betaine HCL Challenge Test is the most reliable at-home test for HCL levels. It’s important to note that if you are taking NSAIDs or Corticosteroids that you should consult a physician before trying this test but the test itself is pretty simple.

  • The first step is to buy a quality Betaine HCL with pepsin supplement.
  • Step two involves eating a high protein meal with at least 6 ounces of meat
  • At the halfway point of the meal take 1 Betaine HCL supplement

You may not notice anything after taking the HCL supplement. If this is the case it’s very likely that you have low stomach acid. You may also start to feel symptoms such as burning or hotness in your stomach which indicates you probably have adequate acid levels. It’s important to repeat this test more than once to make sure you get the same results. Typically, 2 positive tests indicate it is time to start taking a Betaine HCL supplement regularly.

A lot of information, isn’t it? If you find yourself with 2 positive tests the next thing you’ll want to do is find an HCL supplement to help increase your HCL levels. We recommend choosing a quality HCL supplement like Premier Research Labs HCL. It contains a natural source of hydrochloric acid to promote healthy nutrient absorption.

For even more information check out the video below from Dr. Hagmeyer, the clinic director at the Naperville Institute for NeuroMetabolic Solutions.

Resources:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/382590-too-much-acid-in-the-stomach/

http://scdlifestyle.com/2012/06/hypochlorhydria-3-common-signs-of-low-stomach-acid/

http://metabolichealing.com/key-integrated-functions-of-your-body/gut/lack-of-adequate-stomach-acid-what-you-don-t-know-could-be-causing-major-distress/

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12 Responses to Too Much or Too Little? Finding a Healthy Stomach Acid Balance

  1. Tami August 15, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Thank you for the great information. I’m just starting to look into this. Could you tell me… why is it recommended to take “Betaine HCL with pepsin supplement” when doing the test, but to take “Premier Research Labs HCL” if determined you have low HCL levels? (thanks again!)

    • Laura Miller August 15, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      Hi Tami–either supplement would be fine for testing purposes and also to determine if you have low HCL levels. I wanted to give a few different quality supplement suggestions for our readers to choose from. Premier Research Labs & Pure Encapsulations are both high quality brands–you can’t go wrong with either.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. grae February 7, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    is it possible to take too much betaine? i’m having a problem with the testing; i can’t feel warmness or heaviness or anything different when taking betaine hcl with pepsin. but i have SIBO, so i already have a lot of stomach discomfort. what are the dangers of overdosing? what are signs of overdosing? is it better to underdose or overdose?

    • Theresa Groskopp, CN February 8, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

      Hi Gillian,
      Yes it is possible to take too much betaine hcl though it will be different for everyone. If you have low stomach acid supplementing with HCL may help control SIBO.

      The usual suggestion to help determine how much hcl you need involves gradually increasing the dose of HCL until you reach that warm feeling then backing down by one capsule. In some cases, I have heard of individuals taking 6-12 capsules per day of 550mg per capsule.

  3. Sarah July 10, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    This is the best website I’ve seen that addresses this issue. However there is one question that I feel is not addressed. If I have too much acid level in my stomach, how would I respond to these home tests? Would it be the same reaction as adequate acid levels only a faster reaction?

  4. Justin December 16, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    My question. How does one go about supplementing after they have been on PPI’s for 5+ years.
    If I was to start the supplement and cold turkey the PPI’s you get bad re-bound acid. The re-bound plus the supplement would be a scary thought. A very large volcano is what I picture. Any thoughts?
    38yrs old Gerd and Barretts

  5. Angela August 22, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    Hello,

    I had the Heidelberg test and was positive for hypochloridia. The Dr told me to take up to 5 hcl with pepsin pills and to assess my burning.
    I wake up with the burning sensation some times, also with anything I eat so When I take the hcl I am not sure if is the low acid or the hcl.
    The other thing is that I am vegetarian and still need the acid to digest; however as I understand hcl should taking for meat digestion only?
    My concern is : how can I improve my own acid without taking the pills evendough the Dr recommended it?
    How do I know of the burning is from the low acid or from the hcl pill?
    Pepsin is made out of porcine. Is there a vegetarian version?

    Thank you,

  6. cynthia September 12, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    I notice I’ll burp immediately after taking Betaine HCL with a meat meal. At first I had to take like 10 650mg tablets. Now only 1 or 2, 250mg tabs. I notice when I take baking soda or ca/mg supplements it feels heavy in my gut so I take another tab and it is relieved but my heartburn seems worse. Anybody know what this means? I guess we are all so different in this regard.

    • Maura May 12, 2017 at 8:26 am #

      Cynthia, Did you ever figure this out having the same symptoms!

  7. Lucky lee November 16, 2016 at 8:12 pm #

    Would someone please tell me how to tell if I have low or high stomach acid pertaining to gerd? I also have gastritis and things like ginger, lemon, acv, tea all make it worse. Thanks.

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